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Archive for June, 2011

I’ve been doing a lot of digital restoration over the past few years: Old slides from the 1960s (Alaska and Vietnam), 35mm B&W negatives from the 1960s and early 1970s (Vietnam, Phila street photography, etc.) and more recently, I restored dozens of old prints from the early 20th century for a photo book I made for my mother.

Lots of hard work and pulling myself up by my bootstraps have paid off. Mom is happy and I’m pleased with what I’ve done so far. But I wanted to take my efforts to the next level. My copy of “Digital Restoration from Start to Finish: Second Edition” by Ctein arrived last week. I dove into this marvelous book right right away. Here’s my first ‘practice’ effort.

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This restored photo was taken on July 4, 1926. The little girl in the center is my 88 year old mother. The woman on the right wearing the black hat is my grandmother. The setting was in the Kingsessing Playground in Phila. They had a gala July 4th celebration every year. This would have been the baby parade I believe.

The family lived across the street at 5022 Kingsessing Ave. I lived in that same house until I was 12 years old. I still remember those July 4th celebrations. I made a print of the restored photo for mom. She loves it.

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This is the photo I started with. Mom found it in the bottom drawer of her dresser (along with a bunch of other photos). They belonged to my late Aunt Martie Ann. Another treasure trove found!

As you can see, this 85 year old photo is in poor condition. The first job is to get the image into the computer. I had always scanned B&W photos as gray scale. My first lesson was to scan this photo as RGB as Ctein suggests. An RGB scan gives you more control. The default scanner settings for Gray scale uses the green channel. You can get a cleaner scan by using one or more of the other channels. You can even use the ‘dirty channel’ to isolate damage so it’s easier to make a mask.

I didn’t use a mask for this restoration. I found the cleanest channel, then fixed the image manually. The restored image is pure B&W with a full range of tones including good midtone contrast to give the image some nice snap.

I cropped the original from the left and top. The person in the background on the far left was a distraction and cropping a little from the top eliminated some of the worst damage. Then I used the clone tool and the speck removal tool to clean up the dirt, scratches, tears, fingerprints and spots (from poor processing).

When I was satisfied, I resized the image and sharpened it. Ctein suggests you scan at 16 bits. This one was easy for me because I always use 16 bit scans and do all my post scan editing 16 bit with Picture Window Pro, a program I’ve been using for about 10 years now. I upgraded PWP from 3.1 to 3.5 about 7 years ago. A couple months ago I downloaded PWP 5.0 and played with it until the 30 day trial ended.

Ctein calls PWP “an amazing program” and I couldn’t agree more. After reading through Ctein’s book the first time, I decided it was time for me to upgrade to 5.0. The upgrade cost a mere $44.95, half the purchase price paid by new users. PWP is a windows only program but it runs on my linux box under Wine.

Oh, I almost forgot. I also have Neat Image running under Wine. I bought the pro version years ago and get free upgrades. Neat Image can work wonders. It reduces or eliminates image noise and does a fantastic job of it too.

I’ve been studying Ctein’s book and practicing what I’m learning with color now. Every time I open the book, I learn something new and valuable. I tried PWP’s Texture Mask and wow did it ever work for me. I was able to create masks that in combination with the advanced sharpen transformation, cleaned up a large percentage of dust spots and dirt without compromising image quality in two color restorations I’m working on. But that’s another story for another time. Meanwhile, I’m having fun.

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Morning light
Puddles the forest floor —
Walk softly.

 

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The Chestnut Branch is one of the major tributaries of Mantua Creek. Chestnut Branch flows a bit over seven miles from Glassboro to Mantua (New Jersey). Ceres Park Nature Reserve is one of the best places to get up close to Chestnut Branch.

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Here’s a view of Chestnut Branch looking downstream. I took this photo earlier this month from the bank at the bottom of the main trail. My favorite time for visiting is mid-morning during the week. Most of the time, I have the park to myself. The only disturbance to the quiet is the traffic noise from Rt. 55, just outside the park.

Ceres is a delightful place for walking, contemplating and photography.

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I love to play so I thought I’d engage in a bit of whimsy this week, hence the strange, Hungry Tree title. When I visited the Ceres Park Nature Preserve one day in mid-May, I carried two cameras with the notion of taking photos that struck my fancy.

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This image was taken with my 50/1.4 SMC tak (lens). I was playing with selective focus. Notice how the hungry tree is slightly out of focus, the new growth beyond in sharp focus and the background generally blurred. When I processed my film I was delighted. The photo reminds me of a young bird waiting to be fed by mother.

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Move in and switch cameras. A closer shot was taken with my Nikon 85/2.0 lens. This time the tree is in sharp focus while the background is merely suggestive.

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Same Nikon lens for the closest view yet. The background is nearly gone along with context. The focus is on the texture and forms of a small part of the hungry tree.

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Here’s a wide angle (28mm tak) photo for context. I took this one on an earlier visit to Ceres at the end of April. This tree fascinates me. Each time I pass it I take another photo.

Two visits, two cameras, three different lenses and three B&W 35mm film types. The first image was shot with Ilford FP4+, the next two with LP400 (aka Fuji Neopan 400) and the last with Kodak Tri-X.

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I’m lucky. The Ceres Park Nature Preserve, where I love to photgraph, is only one mile from my home and Chestnut Branch Park (CBP) is only two miles in the other direction.

CBP has acres of athletic fields, a playground for the kids and more. My favorite place is the 9/11 trail. Tucked in behind the manicured playing fields, the trail meanders through the forest, dropping down to a swampy area and the Chestnut Branch, a tributary of Mantua Creek.

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One sunny morning in early May, my Bessaflex, 50mm SMC tak and I went for a walk along the trail. The fallen branches, the light and the wiggly forms called to me and I took this photo. B&W film is wonderful in it’s ability to capture a full range of tones and textures.

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Here’s another, lit from the front on the opposite side of the trail. I think I’ve taken a photo of this fallen tree every time I walk the 9/11 trail. And each time the image is different, changing with the light and seasons.

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And here’s a view looking down the trail. The morning light was just right. One of these days, I must return to the trail in the evening light when the sun is low and the shadows long.

The film was Freestyle Legacy Pro 400, a private label film that’s made in Japan. Freestyle doesn’t say so, but this film is Fuji Neopan 400. I just opened a new 20 pack of short dated, 24 exp. LP400 that I got for a mere $30. That’s only $1.50 per roll folks and I do like this film.

In this case, short dated means it expires in July 2011 but that’s not an issue for me because I keep my film in the freezer until I need it.

So — I’m able to shoot and develop a roll of this film for a total cost of about $2.50. At these prices and the fact that I love B&W keep me in the film camp. Of course I enjoy using my high quality legacy film equipment. The SMC takumar 50/1.4 lens is a gem both optically and in build quality that you couldn’t touch today for less than $1,000 (or more).

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I published the first part of Emerald Lake Reflections last month. The only words a three line poem. I had two cameras with me that day. Here is the companion image.

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I had gone to Ceres that day hoping I might find some interesting images among the swamps. The day was heavy overcast and the forest dark. After leaving the swamp I headed up the trail and found the best images of the day here on the shore of Emerald lake.

Last month’s image was taken with an 85mm lens as I crouched at the edge of the lake. I moved up and to the right for this image, switching to my Bessa and 50mm tak for the shot. The perspective shifts the viewpoint dramatically but the focal point, the two small plants emerging from and reflected by the lake, remains.

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I had no idea what I would photograph when I visited Ceres Nature Preserve last week. I knew I wanted to get closer so I carried one camera with a 75-150 zoom and another with a close focusing 35mm lens, both loaded with B&W film.

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The personality of the forest changes from season to season, hour to hour and even minute by minute. With the trees heavy with foliage and the ground in deep shade, the life of the forest reveals itself in small, magical sunlit patches.

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No thing in the forest is ordinary when seen and felt closely. Is this a vine covered tree stump? or a rough skinned creature of the woods poking through the foliage? Or shall we simply enjoy the image without naming?

I came across the works of the late John Daido Loori a few weeks ago. He was an accomplished nature photographer, Zen priest, and abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in New York. I have two of his books now — “Making Love With Light: Contemplating Nature with Words and Photographs” and “The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life.” Both books highly recommended. They are helping me enrich my life and photography.

Life is a creative journey. It’s delicious.

Addendum: Here’s a link to Zen Photography, a uTube video with John Daido Loori.

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